Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Unschooling to School: Collecting

This morning in my t-shirt I stood and shivered in the pink sunrise, the blue light of dawn still behind me, to the west. The porch was dry but the air was heavy. The languishing tomato vines hung limp with dew and decaying leaves. The first drops began to fall, and an hour later I was wrapped in two sweaters, cleaning house under a cacophony of slamming water on our metal roof. The autumn rain has come swooping back in, and I am relieved.

We've been picking the tomatoes just as they begin to turn yellow and ripening them in the house. The quinces on my daughter's tree are turning a rich glorious yellow, and the potatoes, quinoa and oats are all inside, in various stages of progression toward the pantry. The heavy rain is beating the aphids off the kale and pulling the leaves off the trees. This is how autumn often comes on the west coast: leaves fall heavy to the ground and rot before making any fluffy picturesque leaf-piles. Sometimes I can't tell the difference between the leaf-litter and the mud. Sometimes there is no difference. Things like gardens begin rotting right under our noses in the summer, and in the autumn rain they get hammered to the ground. Now we're entering the six month long period of rubber-boot-wearing. I love this season. I am glad for the opportunity to take stock.

This is a time for collecting: seeds, fruits, tubers; collecting my body into warmer clothing; collecting my family. Every day when my son comes home from school I pull him into my arms. Maybe I curl up in a blanket with him and hear about his new friends, maybe I collect up his lanky body to sit beside me on the couch and show me what he's doing, and maybe he bitterly stomps into his room and shuts the door behind him, so I sit down among the clothing, electronic parts and lego pieces and I listen. I worry about the big changes in his life - starting school for the first time in 7th grade is kind of like jumping off a cliff into a black frothy ocean current. I am sad to see the summer go. He puts his arm around me and says it's O.K. It's just raining. I know he's right. It's harvest time. And in every harvest are infinite beautiful new beginnings.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Pie for Parkinson's

Here's my Pie for Parkinson's challenge video.

I'm supposed to tag people to carry on the challenge and donate to Parkinson's.

I hereby tag everybody who feels so inclined to think about the people you love; think about the challenges those people face, and think about how we can all be accepting, supportive and kind, in everything we do.

We all have challenges, and our strength and resilience comes from love and community. I am blessed to live among many such accepting, kind, supportive people.

Pie for Parkinsons from Emily van Lidth de Jeude on Vimeo.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Unschooling to School: Measuring Up

First ever math homework!
Recently my son did an assessment test before his first school experience. He entered grade seven having spent no more than about 20 hours each year completing math questions and writing assignments, so they needed to see how he would fit into the group. Apparently his computation and spelling barely attain "grade level", while his math and reading comprehension are above. To discover that our son is miraculously working at grade level, despite having never completed a "grade" or test in his life was certainly reassuring. For parents traveling a largely uncharted path with our kids' education, that felt like a huge pat on the back. But I am wary of being caught in the trap of "measuring up". The whole reason we're doing this is to instil in our children a desire to live fulfilled, rich lives, independent from societal and social expectations.

Most miraculous, to me at least, was the fact that he enjoyed the test. "It was interesting!" He exclaimed upon coming out of the room. "I liked that I got to write about what I like to do. The teacher was very nice, also." And it occurred to me that these are the things that deeply matter in life: that we are engaged in what we do, and that we are held with respect and compassion by others.

I admit that I have a lot of trepidation about this schooling adventure. I had a terrible time at school. I was the last person chosen for teams in gym class (people actually fought over who had to have me on their team), I achieved mostly minimal grades, and was bored all the time. I felt invisible, and worse, it seemed that when people did see me they wanted to hurt me. I never measured up. Now I've put so much faith in holding my children close, in allowing them to venture out into the world without the measuring sticks of school applied to them, with the hope of keeping their spirits in tact. I'm so scared this year of school will break my boy's spirit; maybe my own. But life is not for the faint of heart, right? So off we go. I will do everything in my ability to keep his fire stoked and his dreams his own; to remind him that every day is his to determine, and I will judge him always only by how much I love him.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Amber Sunshine

Don't worry little kitten - it's a herbivore. I hope.
In 1998 Markus and I stopped to camp in a little campsite next to the Rosebud River, in Rosedale, Alberta. When we pulled into our little spot by the riverbank, 3 tiny kittens were scratching and scrabbling around in the dust. They were clearly starved, so we took out a can of tuna, and as I opened it a little black and white one climbed from my foot to my shoulder to get the fish. The three finished it in less than 30 seconds, as I remember. Then we left to visit the Drumheller museum, and when we returned, an RV had pulled up beside us and the kittens were occupied by the RV owners' two children. We went to bed in our little tent, and fell asleep to the sound of the wind picking up.

Eventually we woke again, deep in the night, to a raging pelting rain and thunder storm. We could hear the river raging beside us, and felt briefly awed by experiencing what was clearly a flash flood in Alberta's badlands. Then we heard mewing. Tiny, faint, and frail sounding, and then louder as she pushed her face against the zipper-closing of the tent, the little yellow tabby kitten had come for refuge.

Amber and Markus adored each other.
I got up and let her in. She was like a small wet rag. I towelled her off with my shirt and went back to sleep. When we woke the next morning she was a puff of white and yellow fluff, sprawled on her back between our heads. She has always had the softest fur I've ever felt. I will miss that about her.

Her brothers were gone from the campground, and so was the RV. We hope they went home with those kids. We tried to look for her home, but nobody had heard of kittens being born, and when we turned down one of the driveways she screamed, just before large aggressive dogs came running out at our car. We decided to keep her, and drove her back home to Vancouver with us.

I wanted to name her Alberta Rose; Markus chose Amber Sunshine, instead. Both were fitting.

Amber was so frightened when she saw our older cat, Moonshadow, that she peed on the bed where she was sitting. Moonshadow took great care and patience to move just a few inches closer to Amber every day, until finally Amber welcomed her and began sleeping under Moony's arm. They began sharing a small basket.

Amber was temperamental - she had an eating disorder that cost us thousands of dollars in the first couple of years, and became a ferocious hunter when we moved to Bowen. It cured her eating disorder, but was not always a pleasant habit. She was also fiercely territorial, and expressed frequently her disapproval when things weren't going her way.

Amber meeting our new puppy, Juniper. 2000.

She hated snow and rain, and reminded us so every time the weather changed by peeing on Markus and my clothing (even crawling into our drawers when possible). She peed on the baby laundry after Tali was born. We understood her frustration, but luckily she grew to love him, and she became a loving, tolerant (and very fat) kids' cat.

Baby Tali had no fear about pulling and mouthing her ears, because despite her ferocity, she never hurt him.

After Moonshadow died, a few years ago, Amber gloriously ruled our house, dominating dogs and even us when she felt like it. In recent years she guarded over the children in their beds, and developed a nice routine for spending quality time with each of us, every day.

In her senior years she cared less about making friends with newcomers!

She made a fuss every time we came home from the city, walking around the yard yelling at us in the most unpleasant tone she could muster, until we'd sufficiently snuggled her dismay away. I will miss that about her, too.

Amber died, today. We found out last week that she had a tumour in her face, and it grew very fast. This afternoon we had to let her go. She fell asleep in my arms, before being euthanized by candlelight with gentleness and care by our Bowen vet. We were very grateful for him, today. And very sad to lose our dear friend of 16 years.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Unschooling to School: First Day

It may seem rather odd that we, who have been so gleefully unschooling for all these years, have sent our son to school. And an independent IB World School of all places, too. But actually it's just a part of the whole. Unschooling is about following our own and our children's interests and dreams, and this seemed to be the next step in his. So we support him in that.

This morning I wanted to make him a special breakfast - a kind of ceremonial first rite, the idea for which I got from a friend who sent her daughter off to this school for the first time last year. But he refused! He wanted to make his own breakfast. He wanted to make himself instant biryani and continue with the book which I suspect he was up most of the night reading! So, wanting as usual to respect his journey, I just photographed the meal.

He spent his first day at school today. He was overwhelmed and happy when he got back. This is going to be a slow transition for various reasons, not the least of which for his sleep patterns, but he was ready for the change, and we clearly made the right decision in sending him.

This afternoon my 12 year old son walked in the door, and for the first time in his life I said, "Hi lovely! How was your day at school?" And then I jittered up and down like a silly person, so thrilled to have uttered those words.

He looked at me and smiled, maturely. "It was good!"


So here in British Columbia, nobody in the public school system is in school, because our provincial Liberal party has precipitated a strike. I think it's pretty fair to say that the vast majority of parents here support our teachers, who are asking for nothing more than the means to do their jobs well. Even our beloved children's entertainer Raffi has spoken up on the issue.

We homeschoolers and unschoolers also have teachers. 
Some of us have children in the public school system or at private schools. Some of us whose children don't attend any school are supported by wonderful teachers through Distributed Learning and other programs. Some of us are also teachers, ourselves, either as union members or not. Most of us have in some way benefited from a wonderful teacher, and I am quite certain that support for teachers is nearly universal. Whether our children attend school or not, we are all members of the same community. We support the teachers who, in living with us and in supporting us and our children, are essential to our community's wellbeing. It's critical that they are given the means with which to do the jobs they have chosen with all the passion and skill they do.

But There's No School this Week! 

Politics aside, what to do with the extra home-time seems to be the question of the moment. People are out there scrambling for curriculum packages to occupy and educate their children during the strike. Of course I've been contacted by some readers (and by my sister) for a post on this. I suspect my answer is predictable:

Most people unschool all summer. By that I mean that when school is out for the summer, kids are given opportunity to follow their passions and inspirations, to join their family on work and play adventures, and to participate in activities like camps, workshops and other adventures that they don't have so much time for during the school year. That's basically the definition of unschooling. If daycare isn't an issue (and I'm aware that for many it is), then why not keep unschooling? 

We had an interesting and unexpected reassurance this week when our 12-year-old son did his first ever test, and appeared to be far ahead of grade level in the things he does a lot of, and just barely meeting grade level in the things he never does at all. And best of all: he came out of the assessment test happy and excited to have had the experience! If that's the result of 7 years of full-on radical unschooling, then all my fears have been officially put to rest. We're thrilled for him to have the "school experience" he's beginning this year, but pleased that our daughter is still unschooling, and that they've both had the opportunity to follow their own hearts for so long. I feel like this strike, despite all the reasons it shouldn't have to happen, despite all the truly good things that teachers do for our children even with their very meagre resources, is an opportunity for more kids to follow their hearts for just a little longer, and take advantage of the beautiful blossoming that can encourage.

Go into the Wilderness!!!
I can't stress enough how important I think this is. It will always be number one on my to-do list. It's raining, today. So get out in the rain! And if you parents can go along for the adventure, do it!! My kids' lives have been defined by the time they spend exploring, walking through, and playing in the woods and riparian areas around our island. We go out into the wilderness with an expectation of stopping to look at whatever piques our interest, and the most interesting, meaningful conversations we've had have happened out there. Expect to get dirty. Expect to stay longer than you intended. Expect to sit down in a creek and play with the flow of water. You might know in the back of your mind that this is physics play, but don't push the "teaching moment". Just enjoy the play. When your kids watch you discovering as much as they do, they learn instinctively that exploration and discovery is good, and this will set them up for a lifetime of learning. 
If you can do this for every single day of the strike, you don't need the rest of this list. :-)

Open-Ended Creativity
Of course, you can do this outside as well as inside, but if you're all too wet and tired, have come in for your lunch and hot drinks, and crave some quiet or dry indoor time, then get creative at the table! Or the floor. Wherever it is, clear the biggest area you can, and pull out whatever can be used creatively: Blocks and other construction/sorting toys; paints, glue and whatever scraps and materials can be glued or painted; fabric, yarn and sewing supplies; papers and envelopes for sending letters (don't coerce them to write - if all they want to do is wrap up a lovely little glued piece of yarn and put it in an envelope, then that is a wonderful step ahead on their journey to communication - enjoy it!). Maybe you will find yourselves sprawled out in the creativity space telling stories. That, too, is a wonderful opportunity to learn. "Teachable moments" will abound - let them. And see where they take you and your children, without needing to direct them.

Get Dramatic
A few weeks ago my daughter and her friends spontaneously became human CD-players. They made themselves paper "CD drives" and a collection of paper "CD's", and sat covered in blankets which also hid a collection of instruments, underneath. The CD's were inserted into the drives, and the blanket-CD-players bopped around with every style of music you can imagine. You never know what materials will be useful for this play, but dress-ups, blankets, craft supplies and basic instruments are good things to have around. It's also a good idea for parents to be available as an audience, when needed. The important thing is give the kids space for their play. This kind of play is essential to their development of social literacy, and we can cause a lot of confusion by being too involved. Even as a teacher, I only step in when difficult situations arise, or when my participation is requested. And then I mostly act as mediator, helping them to find their own resolutions and ideas.

Lose the Schedule
If you just looked at this list of three suggested activities and mentally sorted them into time-blocks for a day at home, know that you're not alone. Our culture is carefully moderated by schedules and rules, and we depend on those things to keep us in line! But unschooling is about letting go of those restrictions and following our hearts into new and exciting territory. If your children have disappeared in the woods and it's lunch-time, and you've set up an awesome craft-space for their expected return... go check in on them. Maybe they would rather have a picnic in the rain and continue their play than come in. Maybe your awesome craft-space will be totally unused, and you'll have to use it yourself! And that has to be OK, sometimes. Having a lack of schedule won't ruin the kids for school - they'll fall back into line when it becomes socially prudent to do so. But meanwhile that morning adventure that carried on for 3 days will be something wonderful to hold onto, and you never know how it may have influenced the rest of their lives. You might even have to bring them dinner and a tent.

Crafts for MLA's
Finally, with enormous thanks to my friend Tom, whose genius idea this was... Crafts for MLA's! 
You can find your MLA's address here (search and then click the name for the address), or you can find our esteemed Premier's address, here. Let's let our children sent the government little gifts of their own gorgeous voices. Christy Clark is a mother, too.

This strike doesn't have to be a negative thing. It's an opportunity to give our children a voice. It's an opportunity to let the people we elected know that we believe in giving our teachers the resources and circumstances they need to do the wonderful job they want to do. Let your kids send whatever they want. Not only does this open up wonderful opportunities for discussion about politics, school, and human rights, but it will give our provincial Liberals a beautiful reminder of the kaleidoscope of valuable young persons who benefit from and depend upon the public school system in our province. Our teachers see these expressions of our children's hearts and minds, and are passionate about helping them to grow and learn from a place of joyful discovery and inspiration.

Working with our Hearts and Minds

Whether our children attend school or not, and whether or not we engage with the public school system, we are all valuable members of the same greater community, and deserve to be supported in working with our hearts and minds. Let's make a point of doing that during this strike and always, and supporting our teachers to do the same.